Why our chocolate is palm oil free
Whittaker’s Chief Marketing Officer, Philip Poole, has been with us over 19 years and he’s seen a lot happen in the chocolate industry during that time. But for him, no ingredient has stayed in the public consciousness quite the way palm oil has. Even a decade on from when the it first exploded across social media, ‘Do you use palm oil?’, remains one of the questions we’re most asked by Chocolate Lovers.
So, we thought we’d share with you why Whittaker’s chocolate is palm oil free and why it always has been.
What is palm oil?
Palm oil is an ingredient that some chocolate producers use during the chocolate making process. It is a vegetable fat that comes from a plant called the Oil Palm. There are two species of Oil Palm used for chocolate, but the most common one is ‘Elaeis guineesis’.
You can extract two types of oil from the fruit of the plant:
- Crude palm oil: produced by squeezing the flesh of the fruit.
- Palm kernel oil: produced by crushing the kernel (fruit stone).
As Oil Palms need an environment that is warm all year round, they are usually harvested in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, that are near the equator.
The oil they produce can be used in many ways across many industries. So it shows up in a lot of everyday products, from bread to soap – and, yes, in some brands of chocolate as a cocoa butter replacement.
But as Megan Sinclair, Whittaker’s Product Development Manager, explains, “because we do not use palm oil, we can only guess as to why some chocolate producers choose to use it”.
She suggests some reasons may include:
- Cost: Palm oil has historically been and largely remains a cheaper ingredient.
- Higher melt-point: Unlike other oils, like olive oil, palm oil is solid at room temperature. This is because it has a higher melt-point, so if you are exporting to warmer climates, it may mean your chocolate is at less risk of melting before it’s eaten.
What is the problem with palm oil?
If we take a step back, palm oil is from a plant. So it is not the plant itself which is the problem, it is how it is harvested. If sustainable agriculture practices are ignored, harvesting palm oil can lead to things like:
- widespread habitat destruction, where animals lose their homes.
- loss of forest medicine
- deforestation (forest destruction), which contributes to global warming.
- land and human right violations (like poor working conditions).
There are some organisations now, like RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), which are working to change how palm oil is harvested. But change requires governments and businesses to get involved on a large scale and agree to a set of rules, so it remains a complicated issue.
As one of the first ingredients to face large scale activism on social media, Megan believes the palm oil story has helped business and consumers understand the importance of how things are sourced. “It is perhaps no surprise that in the years since 2009, that we’ve seen a growing movement towards ethically sourcing across almost all industries – not just the food industry”, she says.
Why we use cocoa butter instead
In the 125-year family history of Whittaker’s, we have never used palm oil in our chocolate. From a technical food perspective, Megan believes it’s what separates a premium product from a non-premium product. “It is such a luxury to come to work and not worry about price. Instead we focus on sourcing the very best ingredients, so we’ve always used cocoa butter,” she says.
Philip agrees and puts it down to a culture of quality, “Andrew and Brian have always been committed to quality and producing the very best tasting chocolate. You just can’t take short cuts as a good Beans to Bar chocolate producer”.
So, what’s the benefit of using cocoa butter?
Well, you might have guessed already, but cocoa butter comes from the cocoa bean. It’s the perfect partner and complements the cocoa flavour of the chocolate. For Megan, “using something that isn’t from the cocoa bean just feels a bit strange!” Also, because it comes from the cocoa bean, it must be sourced from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms as part of our certification programme.
Then, there is the very important experience of eating chocolate, and part of this is ‘mouth-feel’. It might seem like a funny word, but mouth-feel is about how something feels when you’re eating it – not the taste, more the texture. Whittaker’s cocoa butter is crafted to melt at body temperature (37 degrees), so as soon as you put it in your mouth it starts to melt away, creating that really smooth satisfying texture that’s become iconic to us.
How we select new ingredients
We like to try new things and we’re pretty well known for that! As Chocolate Lovers, you’ve probably tried some of the new flavours we’ve released over the years, like L&P, Bundaberg Ginger Beer or our New Zealand Artisan range.
These sometimes require ingredients we haven’t used before. When we choose new ingredients we have a strict checklist that identifies, for example, if:
- they have premium flavour and are premium quality
- they are non-GMO (genetically modified)
- free of any new allergens (something that causes an allergic reaction).
We also ask for suppliers to send us a statement that confirms their ingredients do not include palm oil, and we perform an audit to make sure this statement is true.
Giving Chocolate Lovers a choice
“We are open about the ingredients we use in our products because honesty is a key part of who we are as a business,” Philip explains, “and we believe in giving Chocolate Lovers a choice”. For this reason, you can always find nutritional and dietary information on-pack and online. “So, whether you’re looking to find out what ingredients have been used or if they’re vegan friendly, Halal certified, have no added gluten – anything like that, we try to make sure that’s all available,” says Philip, “If there’s something we missed, please let us know what you need!”
In true Whittaker’s spirit, ingredient sourcing, like all other parts of our journey towards Good Honest Chocolate, is something we keep a close eye on. “Best is always better, and we continue to work with our suppliers and certification partners to refine the processes we have in place”, says Megan.
If you would like to know more about the ingredients we use: